Friday, August 20, 2010
Farewell from Reagan
I'm not one for looking back with wistful wishes of "the good old days." I'm always leaning into the wind looking ahead, but what Reagan had to say on that occasion for the most part was also a prophetic warning to be heeded, rather than a misty-eyed recounting of his past eight years of glory as President.
He was ever the "common sense" purveyor. Everything he said was sensible and easily understood. In part on that night he said:
"Common sense told us that when you put a big tax on something, the people will produce less of it. So, we cut the people's tax rates, and the people produced more than ever before. The economy bloomed like a plant that had been cut back and could now grow quicker and stronger. Our economic program brought about the longest peacetime expansion in our history: real family income up, the poverty rate down, entrepreneurship booming, and an explosion in research and new technology. We're exporting more than ever because American industry became more competitive. And at the same time, we summoned the national will to knock down protectionist walls abroad instead of erecting them at home.
"Common sense also told us that to preserve the peace, we'd have to become strong again after years of weakness and confusion. So, we rebuilt our defenses, and this New Year we toasted the new peacefulness around the globe. Not only have the superpowers actually begun to reduce their stockpiles of nuclear weapons -- and hope for even more progress is bright -- but the regional conflicts that rack the globe are also beginning to cease. The Persian Gulf is no longer a war zone. The Soviets are leaving Afghanistan. The Vietnamese are preparing to pull out of Cambodia, and an American-mediated accord will soon send 50,000 Cuban troops home from Angola.
"The lesson of all this was, of course, that because we're a great nation, our challenges seem complex. It will always be this way. But as long as we remember our first principles and believe in ourselves, the future will always be ours. And something else we learned: Once you begin a great movement, there's no telling where it'll end. We meant to change a nation, and instead, we changed a world. . . "
I pause to reflect that common sense in recent years in Washington D. C. has been anything but common. Reagan continued:
"Nothing is less free than pure communism -- and yet we have, the past few years, forged a satisfying new closeness with the Soviet Union. I've been asked if this isn't a gamble, and my answer is no because we're basing our actions not on words but deeds. The detente of this 1970's was based not on actions but promises. They'd promise to treat their own people and the people of the world better. But the gulag was still the gulag, and the state was still expansionist, and they still waged proxy wars in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Well, this time, so far, it's different. President Gorbachev has brought about some internal democratic reforms and begun the withdrawal from Afghanistan. He has also freed prisoners whose names I've given him every time we've met. . ."
"Finally, there is a great tradition of warnings in Presidential farewells, and I've got one that's been on my mind for some time. But oddly enough it starts with one of the things I'm proudest of in the past 8 years: the resurgence of national pride that I called, 'The New Patriotism.' This national feeling is good, but it won't count for much, and it won't last unless it's grounded in thoughtfulness and knowledge.
"An informed patriotism is what we want. And are we doing a good enough job teaching our children what America is and what she represents in the long history of the world? Those of us who are over 35 or so years of age grew up in a different America. We were taught, very directly, what it means to be an American. And we absorbed, almost in the air, a love of country and an appreciation of its institutions. If you didn't get these things from your family you got them from the neighborhood, from the father down the street who fought in Korea or the family who lost someone at Anzio. Or you could get a sense of patriotism from school. And if all else failed you could get a sense of patriotism from the popular culture. The movies celebrated democratic values and implicitly reinforced the idea that America was special. TV was like that, too, through the mid-sixties.
"But now, we're about to enter the nineties, and some things have changed. Younger parents aren't sure that an unambivalent appreciation of America is the right thing to teach modern children. And as for those who create the popular culture, well-grounded patriotism is no longer the style. Our spirit is back, but we haven't reinstitutionalized it. We've got to do a better job of getting across that America is freedom -- freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of enterprise. And freedom is special and rare. It's fragile; it needs production [protection].
"So, we've got to teach history based not on what's in fashion but what's important -- why the Pilgrims came here, who Jimmy Doolittle was, and what those 30 seconds over Tokyo meant. You know, 4 years ago on the 40th anniversary of D-day, I read a letter from a young woman writing to her late father, who had fought on Omaha Beach. Her name was Lisa Zanatta Henn, and she said, 'we will always remember, we will never forget what the boys of Normandy did.' Well, let's help her keep her word. If we forget what we did, we won't know who we are. I'm warning of an eradication of that -- of the American memory that could result, ultimately, in an erosion of the American spirit. Let's start with some basics: more attention to American history and a greater emphasis on civic ritual.
"And let me offer lesson number one about America: All great change in America begins at the dinner table. So, tomorrow night in the kitchen I hope the talking begins. And children, if your parents haven't been teaching you what it means to be an American, let 'em know and nail 'em on it. That would be a very American thing to do.
"And that's about all I have to say tonight, except for one thing. The past few days when I've been at that window upstairs, I've thought a bit of the 'shining city upon a hill.' The phrase comes from John Winthrop, who wrote it to describe the America he imagined. What he imagined was important because he was an early Pilgrim, an early freedom man. He journeyed here on what today we'd call a little wooden boat; and like the other Pilgrims, he was looking for a home that would be free. I've spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That's how I saw it, and see it still.
"And how stands the city on this winter night? More prosperous, more secure, and happier than it was 8 years ago. But more than that: After 200 years, two centuries, she still stands strong and true on the granite ridge, and her glow has held steady no matter what storm. And she's still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home."
What are the mistakes we have made since Reagan's departure? They are many and varied, but the one that screams more loudly than any other is the deficit spending and the debt we have amassed as a nation in the last few short months. Obama has managed to spend more money in eighteen months than FDR did in twelve years of the New Deal. He spent borrowed Chinese money future unborn generations of Americans will be burdened to repay unless our productivity as a nation overtakes our spending.
An old wisened businessman once taught me, "Borrowing money is like wetting the bed; it keeps you warm for awhile but eventually you have to get up and change the sheets."
It is impossbile to spend the money of generations yet unborn to salvage an entitlement-drenched society. The automatic commitments to the big three entitlements, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid will soon outpace our revenues as a nation.
That was never the vision of the founders, nor those who inherited the Oval Office and the Houses of Congress in subsequent generations.
We have not been pulled back from the brink, as the current occupant of the White House would have us believe. From a debt perspective we are over the falls in a barrel falling at the speed of gravity. As long as debt and deficit spending continue unabated and human dignity is sacrificed on the altar of a bloated federal government daily eroding the American dream Ronald Reagan restored in the 80s, we are at risk.
It's time to retrench, bite the bullet and do what we must do to restore her greatness once again.
The first step is to stop spending money we don't have. When a Democrat says "investment" it has nothing to do with investment in the traditional meaning of that word.
Instead, it means TAXATION. Beware their misuse and abuse of the English language.